InProfessor Gavin Brown, professional vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, first came into contact with scientists in Sumy State University (SSU) in northeastern Ukraine a few weeks ago he did not expect to break away from the call and start ordering new windows.
One of the main SDUs buildings was destroyed by a Russian bomb. Among the university’s many immediate needs, it was to replace 110 windows, but managers could not get the glass in war-torn Ukraine. Brown told them to send him measurements.
Liverpool is one of 44 British universities that in recent weeks have signed a “twin” with the Ukrainian university, which is struggling. Researchers from the UK say the weekly Zoom meetings, set around air raid sirens, with women who have fled by calling from across Europe are “humble” and “emotional”. The idea is to make sure that when the war with Russia is over, Ukraine’s universities will remain in existence so that their staff and students can help rebuild the beaten country.
Fortunately, Liverpool University has its own construction company that has ties to glass manufacturers, and Brown has heard that such supplies are coming across Ukraine. “It’s about understanding what these universities need and offering real practical help,” he said.
The problems do not stop there. “Many female employees have left and are trying to work remotely. Many male staff members are fighting, ”Brown said. University in the abrupt end of the invasion in eastern Ukraine believe that all their female students have fled the region and many have left the country. But universities do not want to lose them.
Liverpool plans to share educational materials online to keep SSU students engaged. The University can also accept some staff, helping them to conduct lectures and laboratory experiments online for their colleagues at home. Brown stresses that his university will be a temporary base, and when the time comes, staff will return. “Obviously, Ukrainian universities are afraid that there will be a brain drain,” he said.
Liverpool, unlike some Western universities, deliberately did not offer scholarships to fleeing Ukrainian students who may want to transfer. Brown says that if the recipients decide not to return, it will cause significant damage. “The whole point of what we are doing is to support Sumy students so that they can continue their studies at their own university,” he said. “They will be crucial in helping to rebuild Ukraine.”
Kyiv National University of Technology and Design told his new counterpart, the University of Sheffield Hall, that the main help needed is to motivate students-displaced to study again.
James Richardson, director of global development and partnership at Sheffield Hallam, says this is no easy task because students fleeing the war will have more immediate priorities than resuming the course. And, importantly, the university doesn’t know where most of them are. “We understand that almost all of their female employees left Kyiv or left Ukraine altogether. This has led to the fact that they do not have a functional administration, ”he says.
In Kiev, air raid sirens sound every day and night. Richardson’s main contact at a Ukrainian university is to schedule meetings if he will next patrol. “I know the staff who are still there are cold,” Richardson says. “On the first call we were told that the temperature was -3 degrees at night, they were in unheated basements. From the outside we may think that everything is quieter in Kyiv, but they feel very under attack. “
The two universities have many courses that overlap, and Sheffield Hall wants to share resources such as online lectures recorded during the pandemic. Many of the Ukrainian students speak English, so language will not be a significant obstacle. “The biggest challenge will be contacting students to tell them about it,” he says.
Richardson hopes to bring together staff and students from both universities together in virtual fall projects. However, he says: “Now they are not really working, so it will be difficult to offer much more than our support. But we are in it for the long term, planning for next year and beyond. ”
Their latest call is Zoom, which was joined by 12 Ukrainian scientists from all over Ukraine and Europe, was “emotional”. Richardson says: “I think it meant a lot to them to know that there is another institution that is just for them.”
“It gives them hope,” he adds. “It’s a reminder that they are fighting for something important. Universities are a huge part of their social and cultural fabric as well as their economic future. ”
Charles Cormack, founder of the Cormack Consultancy Group, which runs the twinning scheme along with a group of vice-chancellors of Universities UK, says British universities are listening to what their Ukrainian counterparts need. “In the meetings I’ve attended, you just don’t hear the word‘ no ’.
York University has become a twin of Karazin Kharkiv National University, one of the most prestigious institutions in Ukraine, whose buildings are in ruins from shelling. Professor Sol Tendler, vice-chancellor of York, says one of the many concerns of the Ukrainian university is the protection of its libraries and archival collections. “We’re told they’re in damp basements now, and it’s not very much,” he says. “If they can take them out of the country, we will keep them in our shelters.”
Like other universities, York is considering offering summer schools for Ukrainian students in the city or virtually. Karazin also wants York to organize summer classes for its staff on relocating online teaching, which is likely to take some time given the state of the university’s buildings.
However, even communication can be a problem. Tendler says, “They are suffering unbelievably, spending most of their lives in bomb shelters.”
Karazin’s leaders said cooperation should be “one good thing” because of the stress they are in. As Tendler says, “You’d like to be able to hug them and do a lot of things very quickly, but really now they can’t handle it.”
The University of Glasgow asked his twin, v National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academyto provide up to 100 places for students in a variety of disciplines to study in Glasgow during the first semester next year. The University of Scotland plans to waive all fees and is exploring what kind of housing and additional financial support it can offer.
Rachel Sandison, deputy vice-rector for foreign affairs, says her talks with her Ukrainian counterparts are “humble” and “cordial”, but she is comforted by the fact that she knows they are doing something good.
Richardson of Sheffield Hallam says: “If it were all over, if there were no Ukrainian universities, because the buildings were destroyed and the staff and students had just left, it would take generations to rebuild.”